By: Simone Dunbar — Managing Editor
Elite gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols gave emotional testimonies during the Senate hearing on September 15, 2021, as they detailed the abuse they suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics (USAG) doctor Larry Nassar and their disappointment regarding the FBI’s lack of action.
The FBI is accused of ignoring complaints about Nassar, allowing his abuse to continue for years. Nassar is now convicted and has been sentenced to life in prison, but this delayed conclusion came at the cost of the innocence of almost 100 young gymnasts across the country.
In an interview with NPR, Biles reflects on her 2020 Olympic performance saying, “I should have quit way before Tokyo, when Larry Nassar was in the media for two years. It was too much. But I was not going to let him take something I’ve worked for since I was 6 years old. I wasn’t going to let him take that joy away from me.”
The moving testimonies of the four women were accompanied by tears.
“It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter,” said Raisman.
Biles says, “I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured — before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse.” Biles directly calls out USAG, the FBI, and the US Olympic Committee, for their failure to investigate Nassar’s actions in an effort to protect the reputation and control of their associations in the world of gymnastics.
Nassar’s actions cause major concern for two of Sharon High School’s competitive gymnasts, senior Xiomara Jennings and junior Carmel Levin. Jennings and Levin compete at Level 10 for USAG and have done the sport since they were 6 and 8 years old, respectively.
Jennings asserts that Nassar’s conviction sheds light on the horrors that go on behind closed doors while acknowledging that this behavior is not new in the gymnastics world.
“It’s not unusual for high-level gymnasts to have to deal with emotional, physical, and […] even sexual abuse from people who they are supposed to trust and then remain silent for fear of repercussions,” said Jennings. The gymnasts Nassar targeted are those who have worked for years to make the National or Olympic team. His authority gave him the ability to tear their dreams in an instant.
Levin finds it hard to swallow that a figure meant to support and protect gymnasts was harming them. “It is heartbreaking to think about the pain they had to go through because of a man who abused his position of power,” said Levin.
Jennings and Levin both comment on their similarities with Nassar’s victims.
“The victims of his abuse were all around my age, all gymnasts like me, just trying to do the sport that they love,” said Levin.
“Just thinking about that makes my heart shatter, and I’m filled with rage. I remember being completely trusting and happy-go-lucky at eight years old, and I absolutely adored and looked up to my coaches,” said Jennings.
Nassar utilized his authority to befriend and, ultimately, betray his victims. Often, the victims suffered quietly and alone, because one word of the assault could destroy their Olympic dreams forever.
Levin says she thinks that the accusations were swept under the rug by USAG for so long because they did not want their power to be questioned. “USA Gymnastics is such a prominent power in the gymnastics world, and I think they wanted to remain the leading country,” said Levin.
Arguing that the FBI had similar motivations for concealing the abuse, Levin says she thinks they wanted to avoid the public eye, and if given the chance, would have dealt with Nassar quietly. She says that the case, fortunately, received the attention it deserved because the best gymnasts in the country were able to speak up.
Jennings says that Béla and Márta Karolyi, the US National team coaches, are not innocent. “They stood idly by as their gymnasts were abused, ignoring complaints and kicking girls off the team who stood up to the National Team Staff and USAG,” said Jennings.
She says that as long as great competitors were being produced, the Karolyis and USAG could not care less about the lives and wellness of their young gymnasts.
For more specific information on the Karolyis and USAG’s part in the delayed conviction of Nassar, watch Netflix’s 2020 documentary “Athlete A”. It dives into the story of one of the testifying gymnasts, Maggie Nichols.
As for the aftereffects of the conviction, there have been safe sport rules put in place to protect athletes from sexual, verbal, and physical abuse.
Levin says that these rules have come too late. “I wish there is something that can be done to show all hundreds of them how grateful gymnasts around the country are for their bravery and strength. I hope they know that they have saved countless little girls and boys because they had the courage to speak up,” said Levin.
Jennings says nothing can make up for the torture endured by Nassar’s victims, but moving forward coaches must be held accountable. “Oftentimes, ‘great’ coaches are never questioned […] I think it’s time we change that,” said Jennings.